A few days a week, an outdoor scene in Santa Barbara’s Oaks Park, nestled between West Junipero Street and Calle Real, is transformed into a dance studio.
Putting on face masks and closed-toe shoes, a group of community members stood ready to learn salsa dance moves shortly before sunset on a recent Monday afternoon.
The dancers mimicked their instructor’s footwork by crossing their left foot in front of their right foot.
“One, two, three, four and five,” Marco Aguilar told participants. “From here on, my hips should be in that direction. Use your torso and relax.
He repeated the instructions.
Aguilar and Erika Martin del Campo, directors and owners of the Santa Barbara-based company ME Sabor dance studio, unite the community through the art of dance and help participants develop their dance skills amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The studio offers outdoor dance lessons on the Oak Park Stage, 600 W. Junipero St. in Santa Barbara. It offers hour-long salsa and bachata classes on Mondays and Fridays. Classes are designed for all levels and ages and cost $ 15 per class or $ 120 for 10 classes.
From 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursdays at the park, the dance studio has an outdoor salsa team for kids ages 6 to 10, and the practice covers the basics of salsa and other genres such as bachata. and merengue.
Dancers pre-register for online and RSVP classes to attend, wear face masks, and keep their distance while dancing.
“All you have to do is introduce yourself,” said del Campo, who was crowned the 2010 Old spanish days Spirit of celebration. “Wear what you’re comfortable in.”
ME Sabor Dance Studio offers two levels of salsa and bachata lessons to accommodate all students, and the lessons are separated into introductory to beginner level on one side of the stage and intermediate and more advanced level on the other side. Participants have the option of participating at the desired level.
“We play the same music, and each side is dancing face to face,” said del Campo. “At the end of the course, we all play for each other. “
Erika Martin del Campo of ME Sabor Dance Studio records a dancer before the start of salsa class at Oak Park in Santa Barbara on February 22. (Photo Brooke Holland / Noozhawk)
The outdoor stage was lit by park lighting and portable lighting in red, blue and pink for extra sparkle during a recent salsa class. The group began to dance in unison to music from a portable speaker.
“We try to make the environment as fun as possible, especially because for most people, we’ve been indoors for a year now, and it’s kind of the only outdoor space that a lot of people get,” said del Campo. .
Due to the pandemic, many local businesses face an uncertain future and have acted quickly to stay afloat during coronavirus shutdowns. The initial coronavirus shutdown in March 2020 extended into weeks and months because COVID-19 spread to Santa Barbara County.
ME Sabor Dance Studio is approaching the anniversary of the closing of studio classes.
“We officially closed on March 14 for what we thought was two weeks,” del Campo said. “This day is ingrained in my head.”
When state-ordered restrictions caused by the pandemic prevented studio classes, the ME Sabor Dance Studio in Santa Barbara switched to line dance classes and outdoor classes at a safe distance in Oak Park. to ensure everyone’s safety.
The dance studio quickly adapted to the challenges by offering distance dance lessons on Zoom about three weeks after the pandemic-related shutdown began last spring.
When the opportunity arose, ME Sabor Dance Studio began running outdoor classes in Oak Park. The first class took place in September 2020.
“It was wonderful dancing at the park,” said del Campo.
Through its classes in the park, the studio has reached more people beyond the traditional studio setting.
“We have had people who may never have entered a studio,” said del Campo. “There was something so liberating about being outside. It’s beautiful and it brought people together.
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of requests to use public spaces, such as parks, for outdoor fitness and commercial activities, according to the Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Department.
The ministry began to issue outdoor fitness and business activity permit in August 2020, said recreation coordinator Kelsey Hamilton. Hamilton estimated that about 20 providers were served by the permit process, and these are just the monthly outdoor fitness and business activity permits.
The Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Department also offers an hourly permit option for providers who want a little more flexibility in their schedules and locations, or offer a few classes per week, Hamilton said.
Some equipment that dancers are familiar with cannot be provided outside the dance studio, such as large glass mirrors.
Classes at ME Sabor Dance Studio now focus on footwork instead of dancing with a partner, as close contact activities have been cut short by the pandemic. The choreography is adjusted to take into account precautionary measures related to COVID-19 involving social distancing.
Classes at ME Sabor Dance Studio focused on working in partnership before the pandemic.
“We have to adjust the choreography and the dance steps, but the # 1 issue we have is pair work,” del Campo said. “We went from working as a partner every day in the studio to now we no longer offer it. “
Meredith Lyons said she enjoys dancing outside under the stars and surrounded by trees and colorful park lights.
“They (Marco and Erika) make it so much fun,” Lyons said. “They welcome everyone and do an amazing teaching job.”
Lyons said she had attended the outdoor dance classes for the past few months and noted a deep sense of community among ME Sabor Dance Studio attendees.
“Dancing doesn’t exist right now,” said Lyons, who is also a former dance teacher. “It only happens inside people’s homes, in their kitchens, living rooms and backyards, and it’s an opportunity to be on what looks like a stage, to be at the outdoors and safe. “
For the future, ME Sabor Dance Studio plans to continue offering classes in the park and expand its offering.
“We want to continue a summer series and stay in the park even after we’re all cleared to be inside,” del Campo said. “It has become something special for us.”
Click here for more information about ME Sabor Dance Studio, including how to register for classes, class prices, dance workshops, private lessons and group lessons.
“We are grateful to everyone who came to the park for our classes. … It fuels our soul, ”said del Campo. “To feel that sense of community that everyone continues to pull out and support dancers in an industry that has been hit hard – we continue to be grateful to all who show up.”